Make Your Comic Strip More Engaging by Zooming In/Out
Today you’re going to learn how and when to zoom your scenes in and out, ultimately making your comic more interesting to read. We’ll illustrate with a simple four-panel comic strip depicting the scene of a car crash.
As readers, we’re bored by cookie-cutter comics. There’s no life to them. It’s like watching security camera footage of people talking; it’s not compelling.
If the panels simply repeat themselves, we only focus on the words — and if we’re only focused on the words, half of the comic experience is gone. We’re stuck reading copy, when the copy should simply be your starting point.
Take a gander at the following script, which gives us the framework on which to create our comic.
EXT - SITE OF CAR CRASH PANEL 1 -- Beside a traffic accident, a police officer speaks to a young woman, who sits on the pavement, visibly upset. YOUNG WOMAN: What happened? POLICE OFFICER: Are you alright, ma’am? PANEL 2 -- The young woman panics. YOUNG WOMAN: What’s going to happen now? Was this all my fault? PANEL 3 -- The police officer speaks calmly but firmly to the young woman. POLICE OFFICER: Focus on your breathing. We’ll get you out of here. PANEL 4 -- The police officer reassures the young woman. POLICE OFFICER: Everything’s going to be okay.
Here’s one way to turn the script into a comic strip:
We have the dialogue placed frame by frame. It’s a simple, linear exchange, so we’ve got our two characters facing each other. One is clearly a disheveled pedestrian, and the other a police officer. They’re surrounded by a smashed car and an ambulance on a road, so you know there’s been a traffic accident. Then — repeat, repeat, repeat.
Would you say there’s anything particularly compelling about this comic? It’s difficult to say, because on one hand, there’s a lot going on here; the panels are very busy. On the other hand, there’s really not much happening at all. There’s little to no movement from panel to panel.
Where do your eyes go after the first panel? If you’re like most people, they immediately go to the text, because we can see, peripherally, that we’re not going anywhere. Because everything we see is repeated from the first frame and nothing of significance seems to be happening, readers will skip it. (We know this because we’re the readers, and this is what we do.)
If we repeat all of these minute details at the same scale, we’re giving equal importance to everything. We’re saying, as the creators of this comic, that it’s important to see everything that’s in this panel — again. But we read comic strips at a comic strip pace, so it all kind of goes out the window.
There’s a movie industry concept that comic makers also find useful, called the “establishing shot.” The establishing shot tells us where the story is taking place — the setting, the location.
Do you recall, in those epic science fiction movies, when they introduce a scene on some new planet — the first thing you see is an aerial shot of the strange new world? That’s the establishing shot. It’s got a bunch of details as to where we are, to provide context for our scene. And then it’s gone — it served a purpose and then we’re into the action, because now we know where we are.
Use this technique! Always start with an establishing shot, then move on to focus on other aspects of the scene.
For this example, we can use the original first frame as the establishing shot.
And then, let the extraneous details fall away, so we can focus on the real action. For the second panel, we’ll do this simply by zooming in on our scene, to where we’re “in” on the action. Guide the reader to your focus.
Now we’re into the scene. The woman is visibly upset, and the officer’s body language suggests she’s trying to console the woman. Very little room for misinterpretation here.
For the third panel, let’s change things up a little more to maintain our readers’ interest. We’ve already established where we are, and who the main players are, so let’s have a moment with one of the two characters.
What’s happening here? The police officer is speaking in a compelling manner. So, let’s for a moment imagine we’re seeing things more intimately from the perspective of that poor, disheveled woman in front of her. Keep in mind, we’re not adding a ton of extra work.
Here is the police officer, front and center. The hints of background tell us we haven’t left the scene, only “spun the camera” a little to add interest.
A little repetition can work in our favor. So, for the final panel, let’s repeat the cropping of that second panel, now with a very marked difference in tone.
Again, there’s no need to see the entire scene, particularly when the content speaks for itself. But keep in mind, this is a very focused panel. Nothing to distract us.
Here’s the finished product:
Now go on and try applying these ideas to your own comics!